Friday, April 18, 2008

The “Sleeping Giant” is half awakened

By Ephrem Madebo

"We are getting out of the whole process. The whole process is an illegal process," Honorable Beyene Petros "

We did not want to be the cause of any crisis. But when the government shows no willingness to cooperate, and wants to be the only party which governs Ethiopia, then we have no hope. We cannot work with this kind of party. We have to quit and show the world we are not able to work with them." Honorable Bulcha Demeksa

"Election results will be quicker than in Zimbabwe" Bereket Semon, Chief of the Political Bureau of the EPRDF

I guess Mr. Bereket is right, and in deed election results are much quicker in Ethiopia than in Zimbabwe because Bereket’s party new super-computer has the capability to accurately forecast election results weeks ahead of the election. This past Sunday Ethiopia held a National Intra-TPLF party election to once more bless the ruling minority party with an end-less and limit-less power. Unlike the May 2005 election, the elections of April 13 and April 20, 2008 were carefully designed and allowed to take place after avoiding the non-TPLF cloned opposition parties, and after making sure that each and every vote goes to the TPLF ballot box. Sunday’s National election was a mock election where the Ethiopian people were denied to make a choice. Form start-to-finish, the organizers, the candidates, the monitors, the ballot inspectors, and of course the winners of the politically homogeneous election were the TPLF agents.

If there is any opposition political leader that knows the "anatomy" of Meles, it must be none other than "Microbiologist" professor Beyene Petros. So why did a person who knows the in-and-out of PM Zenawi for the last 16 years decide to boycott the election at the 11th hour? To boycott an election one should first agree in the existence of a legitimate election where all parties play by agreed common rules. In Ethiopia, there are no rules or policies that favor an all inclusive participatory election. So why did Beyene Petros and Bulcha Demeksa enter the election in the first place? Professor Beyene has alternately lead the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF) since its inception in 2003, is he still the leader of UEDF, specially after he dismissed UEDF’s majority decision in 2005 and joined the Parliament?

On April 10, 2008 just three days before Sunday’s election, Professor Beyene’s party boycotted the election citing the illegality of the election process. The boycotting drama continued after Sunday’s election and OFDM boycotted the election alluding to the unwillingness of the ruling party to honestly include other parties in the election process. Thanks to God, finally, after three years of dancing with the wrong partner, the willfully sleeping giants have awakened. However, only time will tell if this is a change of heart, or a habitual change of gesture!

A political election is a mechanism by which modern democracies fill offices in the executive, legislature, and sometimes in the judiciary. It is a decision making process where citizens are provided with a choice of individuals to choose from for a public office. The election process may differ from country to country, but the fundamental rules and pre-conditions are the same. The electorates must be given a clear choice and must be left free to vote for a candidate of their choice. There must be an independent election institution that examines and arbitrates election disagreements. These three pre-conditions are non-existent in Ethiopia. TPLF is the lone player in the campaign trail and the Ethiopian Election Board officials are hand picked by PM Meles Zenawi.

In 2005, when TPLF followed a relatively liberal election policy, it was Professor Beyene who repeatedly vowed to boycott the election. Surprisingly, it was the Professor himself that gave legitimacy to the 2005 sham election by blaming the pro-democracy demonstrators as rock throwing thugs. During the fruit less negotiations of 2005, it was again Professor Beyene who gave Meles the moral justification to imprison high level CUDP leaders by calling off the "Stay home" strikes and by joining the parliament against the decision of his own party. Between November 2005 and August 2007 when millions of Ethiopians and the international community cried for the release of CUDP leaders, Professor Beyene was quietly making non-reciprocal concessions with Meles. As a leader of one of the oldest opposition coalition [SEPDC], Professor Beyene did not publicly denounce the imprisonment of his fellow opposition leaders, nor did he congratulate them when they were released. In the absence of the CUDP leaders, the honorable Beyene Petros, a man whom the Associated Press called "leader of the largest opposition" in Ethiopia, was working hard to inherit Lieutenant Girma’s worthless chair to serve a party and a man he opposed throughout his entire public life.

Until the day he unilaterally joined the parliament, Professor Beyene was the leader of UEDF, but he was stripped off his leadership role when he broke the very decision that he was entrusted to execute. Professor Beyene can not be the leader of an organization that he does not belong to unless UEDF is a house hold item of the Professor, or the name UEDF is synonymous with SEPDC. I hope the true UEDF will give us a better clarification and defend the indivisibility of its leadership.

In the 1990s Professor Beyene was the emblem of non-violent political struggle in Ethiopia. He was also a man who organized one of the strongest coalitions in the political history of Southern Ethiopia. He and his fellow parliamentarian, the honorable Bulcha Demeksa have had some symbolic moments in the parliament. However, in politics, all the good stuff that politicians did in the past is an archived history. What really matters is their position of today and their vision for tomorrow. Even the charismatic and the well articulated Tony Blair who scored many political & economic victories could not survive Political mistakes. In the past 16 years, professor Beyene has made numerous strategic mistakes. Yes, he has stood with the Ethiopian masses, but his grave mistake is that he displayed loyalty to Meles in those critical moments that counted the most. I usually tolerate those who make mistakes while serving the public. Every body including those whom I trusted the most have made a heart breaking mistake, but kneeling down for a pat from Meles and making repeated mistakes on the interest of the people is unacceptable, inexplicable, and intolerable.

I applaud the non-violent struggle of the honorable Beyene Petros & Bulcha Demeksa, but I also want to let them know that there is a significant difference between "loyal opposition" and loyalty to Meles. All parties and individuals (including SEPDC and OFDM) that follow the non-violent path of struggle are parts and parcels of the loyal opposition. But, make no mistake, your loyalty is not to Meles, or to any specific policies of the government. Your loyalty is to the fundamental legitimacy of the state and to the democratic process. When your loyalty is to the state, irregularities will be administered by the law of the land; but when your loyalty is to Meles who bends the law, you will always end up being betrayed as he constantly twists the law to suit his agenda. In the past three years, both Honorable Bulcha and Beyene Petros have aided the ruling party by jointly drafting rules and procedures that undermined the entire opposition camp [does not include parliamentary bills]. They have entertained the international media by sponsoring a joint communiqué with the ruling party, providing a badly needed legitimacy to a naked regime. In spite of the bullying, the harassment, targeted imprisonment, and cancellation of their candidates, these two veteran politicians entered the 2008 election clearly knowing their zero chance of winning a consequential amount of seats.

The validity of a democratic process in any society depends on the existence of a legitimate government. I believe, even the TPLF thugs agree, at least nominally, that political elections are the corner stones of any democratic process. Jumping in to an election in the total absence of common rules and a legitimate government is tantamount to selling the trust of the electorate to a bunch of traitors that deserve no trust. More than boycotting the election, the two veteran leaders including other puppets of the regime must understand that the TPLF model of the "false diversity" type of pompous election is a sham process that appears to be a genuine electoral contest, in order to present the façade of popular consent and support. Yes, EPRDF has several registered parties [TPLF, OPDO, ANDM etc) and several candidates (close to 4 million), but all of them have the same face and support the status quo.

Though they have publicly stated obvious reasons, I don’t really know why the two parliamentarians boycotted the election. The Ethiopian electorate, including the very people that the honorable Beyene Petros and Bulcha Demeksa represent in the National Parliament knew the true nature of TPLF and its election methodology in the early morning hours of May 16, 2005. I don’t understand why these two giant leaders of the opposition waited for so long, specially, the OFDM leaders who have to wait three more days [After Prof. Beyene] to taste an election so sour to swallow. Unless it is a sign of an honest strategic shift, the recent election boycott of Professor Beyene and Ato Bulcha Demeksa is meaningless because it came too late after the political damage has already been done.

If the boycott is accompanied by a strong verbal and written public condemnation of the TPLF regime, and joining the alliance of the progressive forces of Ethiopia; the far-sighted people of Ethiopia will forgive Professor Beyene for there is no future without forgiveness! Otherwise Ethiopians are sick and tired of politicians whose skin color changes to satisfy the indefinite taste of Meles Zenawi.